Day after day I see Atheist Nexus members argue scripture details, spreading theistic memes here, without realizing their self-betrayal. Memetics still seems, to most, an abstract intellectual debate. We can't grasp religion as an infective agent. We can't see ourselves as merely copying machines for viruses.

A visual metaphor intrudes on my mind, of atheists holding one inch feces balls in their palms, peering at them closely. "Look at these glittery golden bits on the top." "No those look like silvery sparkles to me." "But these green inclusions below them are more striking, take a look!"

 

Imagine religions as infective agents which pass to hosts through feces, as many parasitic worms do. Infected feces balls draw the attention of new hosts, who pick them up and absorb the virus as they linger. Then hosts begin to produce identical feces balls, to pass around to everyone else. People become zombie copying machines for the infection, without knowing. While many hosts become knowing dedicated parasite spreaders, others pick up and spread the virus to make fun of the poo lure.

 

"This doesn't make sense, how can a ball be glittery green and sparkly pink at the same time? Take this one in your hand to examine it closely. Don't you see the contradiction?"

"Take this one, see how disgusting!" "No, this other ball is even more revolting, (passing it over)?"

 

RELIGION MEMEPLEXES ARE A PARASITIC INFECTION!

 

Quoting scripture to criticize it, satirizing Jesus, they're alternative ways to pass the poo. It's still infected poo. The only defense is "Call it infected poo and don't pick it up." Don't give it a place in your brain. Don't make it come out of your mouth, or type it out with your keyboard. It's a mind virus. VIRUS!

This is not to imply that I'm immune. I've posted satire which spreads those religious memes too. *sigh* We have to start by recognizing our role in viral contagion.

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Tags: memetics, mind virus, quoting scripture

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Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on December 25, 2011 at 11:39pm

Glen, mind virus isn't just a metaphor, it's literal use of "virus" in its broader sense.

According to memetics, our minds and cultures are designed by natural selection acting on memes, just as organisms are designed by natural selection acting on genes. A central question for memetics is therefore ‘why has this meme survived?’. Some succeed because they are genuinely useful to us, while others use a variety of tricks to get themselves copied. From the point of view of the “selfish memes” all that matters is replication, regardless of the effect on either us or our genes.

Some memes are almost entirely exploitative, or viral, in nature, including chain letters and e-mail viruses. These consist of a “copy-me” instruction backed up with threats and promises. Religions have a similar structure and this is why Dawkins refers to them as ‘viruses of the mind’. Many religions threaten hell and damnation, promise heaven or salvation, and insist that their followers pass on their beliefs to others. This ensures the survival of the memeplex. [emphasis mine][Susan Blackmore, About Memes]

Human beings aren't only the result of natural selection acting on genes, we and our culture are also the result of memetic selection acting on memes. Memetic evolution is a real physical process involving information, energy, and matter. Just as computer viruses, once released, have a "life of their own" as much as viral diseases in biological systems, memes have an independent evolution. Exploitive memes can take over our minds as effectively as viral particles infecting cells take over host cell machinery to replicate themselves.

Not everyone is aware that the term "virus" has broadened from its original biological context to include similar processes in other areas.

In Virus of The Mind, Richard Brodie speaks of the three different universes in which viruses live: biology, computers, mind and culture. Their defining trait...

"...viruses work by taking instruction-obeying mechanisms and co-opting them." [p 52]

Decades ago "evolution" was only used in a biological context. No longer. I admit that the broader use of "virus" isn't yet mainstream.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on December 25, 2011 at 9:52pm

Ruth,

It seems to me virus is a nice metaphor. So is cancer.

I dont see that you have made the case that theological critiques help to perpetuate the virus. True, not the best path in attempting to undermine the religious mindset. Somewhat similar to a debate revolving around the particulars of a delusion with the sufferer of the delusion.

Comment by Jedi Wanderer on December 25, 2011 at 5:20pm

Ruth, you give with one hand and take away with the other. I agree that secular humanism is a good (albeit far from complete) alternative to religious ethics. But it is philosophy. We would do well to do what is in our power to do, rather than cry out that we are all just helpless victims of those dastardly controlling memes. It is the same with the bad idea of free will - we can cry that getting rid of it makes us all into "bags of flesh", as one of my philosophy teachers once said, who are somehow just like bags in the wind, or we can take what power we have within us and use it to make our lives as good as they can be. What we should not do is destroy all of our illusions but then throw up our hands proclaiming that all is lost because somehow we have been left with nothing. Have we really? Because if philosophy is nothing, then the alternatives we suggest to replace religion are no better than what they replace. Let's not give in to nihilism, shall we?

Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on December 25, 2011 at 5:02pm

Wanderer, I perceive Secular Humanism as already providing a serious ethical alternative to religions. For example, the work of Paul Kurtz.

The problem with the philosophy approach is that it assumes human beings are in control. We think up philosophies, debate them, make choices.

Memetics looks at all of those uncomfortable INCONVENIENT TRUTHS, our susceptibility to manipulation by nonsentient reproductive "things". We don't like to see ourselves in the mirror with our pants down, but there it is. By clinging to the philosophy approach, we deny, evade, and ignore a harsh ego-deflating reality.

That's as effective as shouting defiantly, "MY computer is in control!!!!!", when your computer is taken over by malware.

blindfold

Comment by Steph S. on December 25, 2011 at 3:30pm

"Don't give it a place in your brain. Don't make it come out of your mouth, or type it out with your keyboard. It's a mind virus. VIRUS!"
I like what you said here Ruth. Religion is a virus and sometimes viruses are hard to get rid of. I try not to pick up the "infected poo" - but I might do it unintentionally. How do you rid yourself of the infection? I guess as you suggested -- we start by recognizing our role in the contagion.

Comment by Jedi Wanderer on December 25, 2011 at 2:43pm

I would offer up a solution here as well, rather than merely drawing attention to a perceived problem. The solution I would offer is philosophy. Religious people have been known to falsely suggest that atheism is also a religion. While this is blatantly false, what is more important is to recognize the truth, which is that religion, as well as atheism, are both philosophies. Religious philosophies are a one-size-fits-all response to any and all philosophical inquiries. Ethics? Look to the religion. Metaphysics? Look to the religion. Epistemology? Faith! Everything can be derived from a few simple premises, no matter how intellectually dishonest these premises are. We atheists have a harder time. While atheism answers the metaphysical questions (more or less) with a scientific naturalistic approach, philosophy contains a broad range of questions on which atheists may differ widely in their responses. If we are to be honest atheists, and courageous enough to blaze trails for generations of atheists to follow in, we need to approach the deep questions of life and give deep answers so that we can counter any and all religious attacks. I think the realm of ethics is by far the most important, and has received far less attention that what it deserves. If we are to speak on our own terms, as Ruth suggests, we should be offering up serious alternatives and not just knocking down or undermining religious arguments.

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